Rehearsals have started for a Christmas show I have the joy of being in this year. It’s been two years since I was in a full-length show, and I’m elated to be back in the magical realm of theater. It’s like I’m home again, like a lost part of me has been regained.
As the process began, I started to contemplate… what is it that makes theater so special? Many of the actors I’ve known, many of the actors in this show, have the expressed the thought: I can’t live without this.
So what is it? Wherein lies the magic, the allure? There must be more to theater’s power than fun and social interaction. More than being involved in the arts. What has the power to take strangers and make them into family in ten weeks?
Because we do become family. Ten years later, old cast members see each other, light up, and go for a hug. We’re bonded.
Compare this to coworkers. Relatives. We have more history with them, we’ve spent more time there. But you don’t come away from those relationships with a deep sense of… knowing. Time spent together is not magic.
I think I know what theater’s magic is.
Human beings hide their emotions. We cover up, we fake, we tiptoe, we hush, we ignore. We don’t show what’s really going on inside of us. We don’t give up our souls to be seen.
But in theater we do. In theater we spend ten weeks pouring our hearts into revealing those emotions we aren’t supposed to show. We’re real. We’re real people in this imaginary story, more vulnerable than we are in our daily lives. And it bonds us.
Let me describe what it is to stare into an actor’s eyes. A romance? We stare with aching, with adoration. While these emotions aren’t true for us, they’re true for our characters, and we pour that truth into each other. In the ordinary world, you aren’t supposed to look into someone’s eyes. It’s awkward. It’s invasive. It’s intimate to hold eye contact for more than three seconds. But in theater we latch on, we stare straight into the soul, and we see real emotion reflected back at us. We’re connected.
This is why we can’t give it up. Because in a strange way, the imaginary world of theater is life as it’s meant to be lived. It’s people being human. It’s one of the few things that feels real in a world that’s gone to plasticized-perfection-hell. The mass of men lead lives of quiet desperation. (Henry David Thoreau) We give voice to our own life by voicing another’s story.